Hannah Dennison's Honeychurch Hall series isn't the only thing set in the West Country, UK—countless movies and television shows have been filmed in Devon and Cornwall. Read about some of Hannah Dennison's favorites, and then make sure to sign in and comment below for a chance to win a copy of the 4th Honeychurch Hall Mystery, Murderous Mayhem at Honeychurch Hall!
Devon and Cornwall are known for many things. It’s not just the delicious clotted cream, Devonshire cider, and Cornish pasties that make the West Country such an attractive location for tourists worldwide. Filmmakers also flock to one of the most beautiful corners of England too—especially those who are partial to shooting book adaptations that lean toward the darker side of human nature.
When my sister Lesley, who is the estate manager for The Flete Estate in south Devon, told me that Fox Searchlight was filming a remake of Dame Daphne du Maurier’s Gothic romantic suspense My Cousin Rachel, I wasn’t surprised. The privately owned, 12-square-mile estate has its own village of picturesque thatched cottages and a private beach with a beach house set into the cliffs. It also has a boat house—containing images dating from 1880—a sentry pill box from the First World War, and a bombed-out seawater swimming pool.
In 1997, the beach and beach house on the Flete Estate were two of the locations for Rebecca, another Daphne du Maurier classic, which starred Emilia Fox, Charles Dance, and Diana Rigg. Happily, just this past January, American viewers can watch the miniseries on PBS.
The bleak, windswept, granite moorland on Bodmin, situated in the heart of Cornwall, makes a chilling setting for yet another of du Maurier’s classics: Jamaica Inn. The latest remake stars Jessica Brown Findlay (Lady Sybil from Downton Abbey) as Mary Yellan. Jamaica Inn actually exists. Built in the 18th century, the former coaching inn is rumored to be one of the most haunted inns in Britain. In a taped interview, Daphne du Maurier said that she visited the inn in 1930 and was so struck by the feeling of menace and the tales of smuggling that she was inspired to write about it.
There is another Dame who shares Daphne du Maurier’s passion for the West Country. Dame Agatha Christie was born in Torquay, Devon. Many of her detective stories have been filmed there. And Then There Were None (2015) was shot on Burgh Island in Bigbury-on-Sea. Set on a tidal island that's only accessible by sea tractor or on foot at low tide, the property is the perfect stand-in for Soldier Island. The Burgh Island Hotel website claims that Agatha Christie was a regular visitor and actually wrote both And Then There Were None and Evil Under The Sun while staying in The Beach House.
I could write pages about my favorite film locations in the West Country and not even scratch the surface. From Arthur Conan Doyle’s Hound of the Baskervilles, filmed at Knightshayes Court near Tiverton in Devon, to the Eden Project near Par in Cornwall. James Bond fans are bound to recognize the peculiar biome globes that are featured in To Die Another Day (2002). And, of course, there is the charming South Devon Railway that runs between Totnes and Buckfastleigh for many of those steam train journeys we see in period costume dramas.
So what does make Devon and Cornwall so appealing?
The southwest peninsula has long been a hotbed of spooky tales and urban legends. The landscape is so diverse. The north coast, with its soaring cliffs, is often battered by the Atlantic waves and shrouded in thick fog—ideal for those wreckers from Jamaica Inn to make their mischief. The north is home to the bleakest and most treacherous of moors (Dartmoor and Bodmin) that make for the perfect stomping grounds for those infamous hounds of the Baskervilles. In fact, Bodmin claims to have it’s own terrifying creature: the Beast of Bodmin. Personally, I have never seen it … but I know people who have.
By contrast, the south coast has undulating farmland that stretches as far as the eyes can see and is dotted with tranquil fishing ports and whitewashed cottages immortalized on boxes of English chocolates—always the best settings for murder mysteries where menace lurks beneath the surface of a perfectly ordinary village.
But I don’t want to give my beloved West Country too much of a bad rap. There are plenty of light-hearted comedy series filmed there too. One series that is not based on a book but perfectly captures every day Cornish life—including the wonderful Cornish accent—is Doc Martin. Filmed in Port Isaac, the comedy show stars Martin Clunes as a doctor who can’t stand the sight of blood. It can be found on Netflix and is not to be missed!
I’d love to hear of your favorite filming locations in Devon and Cornwall. Leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of my new book Murderous Mayhem at Honeychurch Hall, the 4th in the Honeychurch Hall Mysteries. And yes, you’ve guessed, the series is set in the West Country.
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Hannah Dennison began her writing career as a trainee reporter for a small West Country newspaper in Devon, England, and is an especially big hit with librarians. Coincidentally her mother is a docent at Greenway, Agatha Christie’s summer home, which has been turned into a museum. Dennison is the author of the Honeychurch Hall and Vicky Hill mystery series.